“Jonas’s lucidly woven account masterfully repositions the role of contingency in the unfolding of history and uses the little-known battle to stand for the audacious imperial quest for glory unleashed by Western powers in the ‘scramble for Africa.’ …His remarkable cast of characters and insightful prose will be of interest to scholars of African history and issues related to counterinsurgency.”―Brian Odom, Library Journal
“On March 1, 1896, near the town of Adwa, in Ethiopia, an African army convincingly struck down the colonizing Italian army in a battle that decisively shaped not only the contours of Ethiopia but also its future and that of the continent. As University of Washington historian Jonas so deftly observes in this nimble and artfully crafted work, the events at Adwa cast doubt upon Europeans’ unshakeable certainty that Africans would eventually fall under their rule. Jonas draws vibrant portraits of the personalities at the center of these events, from the shrewd Ethiopian monarch Menelik and his bold, aggressive wife, Taytu Betul, to the unfortunate Italian general Oreste Baratieri, the leader of the defeated Italian forces. As Jonas points out, the African victory at Adwa commenced the crumbling of European dominance of Africa; Ethiopia thus became a source of pride and lineage often indistinguishable from Africa itself, and writers such as W.E.B. Du Bois based their own model African states on Ethiopia. Weaving a colorful account from the stories of a dazzling array of characters, Jonas skillfully recreates this now mostly forgotten event that determined the color of Africa.”―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Jonas offers the first comprehensive study of one of the most important events in modern African history. He brilliantly brings to life the story of Ethiopian leaders, Italian military officials, and quirky European advisors and observers. Written in a wonderfully evocative and lively style, this book firmly establishes the Battle of Adwa’s place in world history and will appeal to a broad readership.”―Jonathan Miran, author of Red Sea Citizens
About the Author
Raymond Jonas is Giovanni and Amne Costigan Professor of History at the University of Washington.
In March 1896 a well-disciplined and massive Ethiopian army did the unthinkable-it routed an invading Italian force and brought Italy’s war of conquest in Africa to an end. In an age of relentless European expansion, Ethiopia had successfully defended its independence and cast doubt upon an unshakable certainty of the age-that sooner or later all Africans would fall under the rule of Europeans. This event opened a breach that would lead, in the aftermath of world war fifty years later, to the continent’s painful struggle for freedom from colonial rule.Raymond Jonas offers the first comprehensive account of this singular episode in modern world history. The narrative is peopled by the ambitious and vain, the creative and the coarse, across Africa, Europe, and the Americas-personalities like Menelik, a biblically inspired provincial monarch who consolidated Ethiopia’s throne; Taytu, his quick-witted and aggressive wife; and the Swiss engineer Alfred Ilg, the emperor’s close advisor. The Ethiopians’ brilliant gamesmanship and savvy public relations campaign helped roll back the Europeanization of Africa.Figures throughout the African diaspora immediately grasped the significance of Adwa, Menelik, and an independent Ethiopia. Writing deftly from a transnational perspective, Jonas puts Adwa in the context of manifest destiny and Jim Crow, signaling a challenge to the very concept of white dominance. By reopening seemingly settled questions of race and empire, the Battle of Adwa was thus a harbinger of the global, unsettled century about to unfold.